By Hrithik Biswas ’23
When COVID-19 hit the United States with growing cases around the country in March 2020, students were sent home for spring break with many uncertainties in mind. The pandemic added financial strains to many sectors and industries throughout the country, including transportation, retail and restaurants. Although HWS was not exempt from this downturn, the Colleges still had to work to ensure that students received a quality education.
The Herald spoke to President Jacobsen to discuss what it was like making tough decisions to prevent further deficits while prioritizing the Colleges’ finances. President Jacobsen said via email, “for difficult decisions that affect the full campus system, I try to consult widely with other persons on campus. But the ‘buck stops here’ and the responsibility for all decisions remains with me.” Specifically, Jacobsen seeks to obtain advice from her senior administration, Board of Trustee members, and other figures around campus to make a well-informed decision.
During the pandemic, “HWS was fortunate to have avoided any lay-offs,” said Vice President (VP) for Finance and Administration, Carolee White. The assistance of federal funds from the stimulus packages helped offset the additional expenses from the purchase of personal protection equipment (PPE), COVID-19 testing, financial support for students, and digital learning technology.
The Colleges were also able to receive funds from the generosity of donors. White mentioned, “the endowment has performed tremendously well over the last year and will continue to provide financial support as we move forward.” As of May 2020, the long-term investment endowment was valued roughly at $220 million.
However, the pandemic caused a decrease in the number of students enrolled at the Colleges, thus putting a constraint on the operational budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The 2019-2020 school year had a budget of $95,193,000. This was reduced to approximately $82,125,000 for the 2020-2021 academic year.
In order to maintain the institution with this budget, some sacrifices had to be made. Jacobsen, for example, took a voluntary pay reduction of 20 percent. Other senior administrators voluntarily took salary reductions as well to maintain the budget. Faculty and staff equally took part in a pay reduction rate of 7.7 percent or a 4-week furlough program. Departmental budgets remained at the same amount from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021, said White.
White explained, “we reduced budgets for expenses we knew we would not incur given various restrictions associated with the pandemic. An easy example of this is the budget for global education. Since we anticipated travel to international destinations would likely not be permitted, we reduced the global education budget in 2020-2021 compared to prior years. Similarly, travel budgets across campus were reduced.”
Looking forward to the academic year 2021-2022 budget, Jacobsen and White are working toward bringing the operational budget back to its pre-pandemic level. Jacobsen hopes to bring student enrollment to the pre-pandemic level as well. White spoke highly of the HWS community, saying that it “provides me with the confidence to say we will emerge from the pandemic stronger than before.” Jacobsen said, “these significant sacrifices on the part of our employees have made it possible to stay on track towards a balanced budget for the 2020-2021 academic year.” Jacobsen gives much gratitude to the faculty and staff for their support.
Featured image from Herald Archive.